With two 40% assignments due this week and another due next week, I’m feeling both the stress of impending deadlines and weaknesses in my own process of research thus far. These both sound quite negative, I know, but at this stage of the research year I’m trying to learn from each and better understand my own reaction to pressure and the unknown, in relation to academia and the writing process.
Having spent the better part of every day for the past six weeks reading, writing or thinking about my nonfiction research, I should be feeling on-track and immersed in my research problem. The thing is, though, that everything I read and write seems to evade my question and at the same time invite more questions — isn’t there a famous quote that says the more we learn, the more we realise how little we know? Well, that’s how I feel right now. I’m presenting a project next week that is supposed to move my research question forward, but instead it’s taken me back to the basics. My original question was about subjectivity and personal interest in writing, and as a result of my project it has become a question of whether or not we should edit nonfiction writing — how does the construct of coherency change the truth presented? And it’s also invited me to wonder what subjectivity even is, which is not a writing question but some abstract philosophical problem I’ll probably never know the answer to. I’m wondering also about craft – which is at least something more tangible – how subjectivity can be used to frame a story truthfully? Again, I’m unsure, because the very notion of ‘craft’ denotes construction, a fabrication of something. But if this craft reflects the writer’s intention, I suppose it’s not fabricated after all. Is anything fabricated then?
What is my research process? How have I learnt what I’ve learnt? This is what I’m returning to in both of my assignments. For the project presentation, I’m wondering how the readings I’ve been moving through shaped what I wrote as well as how I wrote it — both the theoretical writing and the creative writing. Doesn’t subjectivity include what is happening to the writer now?
To contextualise, here is the first paragraph of my project presentation:
My precursor project is a series of three pieces of writing, each completed in a single sitting, but the second one a response to the first, and the third one a response to the first and second. Through this process and resulting 3000 words, I looked into my own subjectivity, fragmentation of truth and personal interest. My research lies in the field of creative nonfiction, encompassing forms such as memoir and essay, and theories about truth and recollection. Here I was exploring what happens when I, as a nonfiction writer, write from memory? What arises immediately from silence and from recollections of the past? I’m interested in what Francesca Rendle-Short calls ‘the shape and colour and dimension of the darkness’ helping us write what we don’t know about people we know. But what are the limits and implications of writing what I know, or what could be also referred to as what I remember?
My pieces reflected on childhood and the subjectivity that has arisen from those experiences. But reading over these pieces, I wonder about the layers of subjectivity. How about myself now? How does the present self respond to its own memories as a child? I wrote three pieces, and I don’t like the first two because I am embarrassed by how I felt and thought when I was younger. Isn’t it subjective to omit these words though — isn’t this for personal interest too? Isn’t my effort to make my memories more coherent in the third piece a move of personal interest — the interest to gain appreciative readers?
I don’t think there is a limit to this question of subjectivity, and so for the purposes of Honours, probably isn’t worth pursuing in this way.
Rather, I should be taking subjectivity as ever-limitless and exploring how it can be used in writing to frame or implicitly reveal the truth in a piece of work. That the self is the truest content we will find in any piece of writing, so how can it be used as a device for depth and understanding?
Kim Dana Kupperman, a memoir essayist whose work I’ve been reading, writes that “The construction of dimensionality is as particular as — and as linked to — a writer’s style, which E.B. White call the ability ‘to break through the barriers that separate [the writer] from other minds, other hearts’ (The Elements of Style 70)…movement — how a writer unfolds the characters, times, and spaces of a story — furnishes literary nonfiction with its dimensionality…” This “writer’s style”, which I suppose encompasses the background a writer is made from, including subjectivity, is what I’m interested in. How does the nonfiction writer — how should the nonfiction writer — influence their own writing? Kim Dana Kupperman stresses the importance of “contraction and expansion of time, space and consciousness.” What does this mean?
Not sure if I’m on the right track yet, but at least my research is moving forward somewhere.